This Week in Tech: House to examine FCC's airwave auctions

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The FCC aims to buy back the broadcast licenses of local television stations and sell them to wireless carriers by 2014, while also reserving blocks of frequencies for unlicensed use. Broadcasters can choose whether to participate in the auction program.

The FCC is currently accepting comments on its proposal.

The purpose of the auctions is to free up more airwaves, called spectrum, for cellular carriers, which are struggling to keep pace with the booming demands of smartphones and tablet computers. The bill also set aside some spectrum and funding for a nationwide broadband network for first-responders.

In a recent speech, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the subcommittee, said he intends to closely oversee the FCC’s implementation of the law to ensure that it does not try to pick winners and losers.

He warned that allocating spectrum to favored groups would shrink the “the supply of spectrum that is badly needed to meet the rising consumer demand for mobile broadband and leave public safety hanging by depriving it of the funding it needs to build out a public safety network.”

In other technology news, the Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) Location Privacy Protection Act on Thursday.

The measure would require companies to get a customer’s consent before collecting or sharing mobile location data.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the panel’s ranking Republican said at a hearing that he supports the bill’s domestic violence provisions but has some concerns with the commercial portion.

“Specifically, we need to work through some of the definitions to ensure they mean what we intend. We also have to examine the bill’s enforcement mechanism to make sure we don’t create unnecessary problems for litigants or the courts. Finally, we need to examine the impact the consent provisions will have on current and future technology,” Grassley said.

The bill is unlikely to pass this Congress, but Franken is expected to push the measure again next year.

Over in Dubai, member countries of the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will head into their second and final week of negotiations for the International Telecommunications Regulations treaty. The debate over whether the treaty will only apply to telecom networks like AT&T and Verizon, known as recognized operating agencies, or will expand to include Internet networks has still not been resolved.

Official discussions about the issue are expected to pick up again on Monday, though countries will be meeting to talk about it over the weekend. Sarah Parkes, a spokeswoman for the ITU, said the issue is among the most contentious ones being discussed during the conference.

Pressure will be on the member countries to reach a consensus by the conference’s end date of Dec. 14. The U.S. has strongly opposed proposals that call for the treaty to apply to Internet networks.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) are hosting a one-day public workshop on Monday that will examine “the economic and legal implications” of patent assertion entities (PAE). Renata Hesse, the acting assistant attorney general for the antitrust division at DOJ, will give closing remarks at the event.

The joint FTC and DOJ event will also feature panels with top patent academics and executives from Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Nokia, Rackspace and Research In Motion.

On Monday at 11 a.m., the FTC is also hosting a media conference call where it will discuss a follow-up staff report to an earlier one it released on mobile apps for children. Jessica Rich, the associate director of the FTC’s division of financial practices, will give the opening remarks on the call.

The House Intelligence Committee will hold a business meeting on Thursday where members will vote on the final report of its investigation into whether Huawei and ZTE pose a national security threat to the U.S., including the classified annex of the report, a committee aide said. When the committee released the unclassified section of the report in October, it recommended that Huawei and ZTE should be blocked from doing business in the U.S.